By now, you’ve probably heard of them. They’ve overtaken online fan art forums and have oodles of fan sites, including the popular Equestria Daily. They hold viewing parties called “Mare-a-thons,” where they get together to watch their favorite television show, and they consider Weird Al Yankovic, Seth Green, and Andrew WK to be compatriots. They’re Bronies—adult male fans of the show My Little Pony.
Bronies didn’t surface when the original version of MLP aired in the early 1980’s. But when The Hub picked up My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in 2010, the show became a big hit with young girls, and also with an unintended demographic: dudes. Fully grown, predominantly heterosexual men. Weirdness ensued when references to the show and its unconventional fan base started popping up with increased frequency, and in the most bizarre places. For example:
—Anthony Bourdain confessed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon that he got hooked on the show while watching with his daughter, and explained what a Brony was to an unfamiliar Fallon. While he didn’t identify himself as a Brony, he did admit to caring a little too much about what happens to Rainbow Dash.
— Former President Bill Clinton went 3-3 on the NPR show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” when he was quizzed about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. President Clinton, like Bourdain, won’t cop to Brony-dom, but his vast MLP knowledge was both hilarious and surprising.
— There’s a BronyCon. Tis’ true, and it’s just one of many Brony bashes held across the country— proof that the Brony phenomenon is gaining popularity. In 2011, BronyCon consisted of 100 people, and was held in a hotel in New York City. This year, the convention hosted 4,000 in the Meadowlands in New Jersey, and it’s just one of many such conventions held across the country.
But isn’t it all a little too mondo-bizarro? Is it a violation of a social norm for grown men to enjoy and celebrate a show with ponies and unicorns that is targeted towards young girls? What gives?
Even the show’s former animator, Lauren Faust, acknowledges that when people “first hear about men watching a show for little girls, they’re taken to a creepy place. They think there’s something wrong with that, something devious about it.” But Faust doesn’t see it that way. She is currently one of several people involved in the making of BronyCon: The Documentary.
“I don’t think you have to have bad intentions to like little girls or to like the things that they like,” she says. “It’s upsetting to me that people jump to those conclusions. I think it’s unfair to men and I think it’s unfair to girls and women.”
She has a point. On PBS’ online Idea Channel, a strong case is made in support of Bronies, and it is suggested that the Brony culture is changing the way gender roles and social norms are perceived. Yes, the idea of grown men having unabashed love for a little girls’ show sounds crazytown banana-pants at first, but if soccer moms want to get down and watch the Power Rangers or Dragon Ball Z—would that be different somehow?
It’s worth discussing, especially when considering that the great majority of Bronies seem to be well-adjusted men, and their fandom is genuine, which could be why they are often compared to those who attend Comic-Con.
When asked what they get out of a show whose target audience is little girls, responses by Bronies are varied yet similar. “As a person with Asperger syndrome, I learned more about theory of mind, friendships, and social interactions from this season than I had in the previous 31 years of life,” says one. Another also acknowledges that while he never thought he would be “asking for the girl’s toy” in his happy meal, the quality of the show trumps any flak he might receive for his entertainment choices.
And therein lies the heart of the situation: these guys really love this show. They put up with loads of smack talk, and nearly every one in nearly every interview mentions either the show’s quality, or its messages of positivity and friendship. Some are stay-at-home dads, who, like Bourdain, got into the show while watching with their kids. Others really do seem like the dudes you’d meet at ComicCon.
What do you think of the Brony culture?